Environmental Group Files Suit Against California Wind Farm

Published January 1, 2005

Citing the slaughter of thousands of birds each year at the Altamont Pass, California wind farm, the San Francisco-based Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) filed a lawsuit in the Alameda County Superior Court November 1 seeking to halt or significantly reduce the number of annual bird deaths.

A Thousand Annual Raptor Deaths

According to the suit, more than 5,000 giant wind turbines at Altamont Pass kill roughly 1,000 golden eagles, hawks, owls, and other raptors, some of which are endangered, every year. An even greater number of non-predatory birds and bats are also killed there each year.

The group seeks to force Florida Power and Light (FPL) and other owners/operators of the Altamont Pass wind farm to take extensive and expensive measures to protect regional birds. Most significantly, the lawsuit requests that FPL and the other owners/operators be required to install newer turbines that would moderately reduce the number of bird kills and establish new wildlife habitats to compensate for ongoing bird deaths.

Costly Mitigation

The November 2 San Jose Mercury News reported the wind farm companies have balked at installing the experimental technology. According to the Mercury News, “It costs about $1 million per megawatt to buy the new turbines.”

Jeff Miller, a spokesman for the CBD, told the Mercury News the bird deaths are in “flagrant criminal violation” of state and federal wildlife protection laws. Miller also asserted the bird deaths violate the state’s unfair-business code, which prohibits profit-making from illegal activities.

Deadly Subsidies

“Wind turbines at the Altamont Pass Wind Resource Area (APWRA) kill more birds of prey than any other wind facility in North America,” stated a CBD news release, “due to their location on a major bird migratory route in an area with high concentrations of raptors, including the highest density of breeding golden eagles in the world.”

The news release continued, “Research by raptor experts for the California Energy Commission (CEC) indicates that each year, Altamont Pass wind turbines kill an estimated 881 to 1,300 birds of prey, including more than 75 golden eagles, several hundred red-tailed hawks, several hundred burrowing owls, and hundreds of additional raptors including American kestrels, great horned owls, ferruginous hawks, and barn owls. These kills of over 40 different bird species are in violation of federal and state wildlife protection laws such as the Bald Eagle and Golden Eagle Protection Act, Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and several California Fish and Game Code provisions.”

“The wind industry profits from tax credits, government cash grants funded by surcharges imposed on California’s electricity consumers, and sale of power at above-market rates based on the perception that it provides ‘green’ energy to consumers,” said Richard Wiebe, attorney for the plaintiffs. “The industry must be held accountable for illegally killing thousands of eagles, hawks, falcons, and owls in violation of wildlife protection laws, especially given its decades of inaction in addressing these massive ongoing bird kills. For 20 years, they’ve racked up a massive debt to California’s citizens and its environment. It’s time for that debt to be paid.”

James M. Taylor ([email protected]) is managing editor of Environment & Climate News.

For more information …

The text of the legal complaint filed by the Center for Biological Diversity is available online at http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/swcbd/programs/bdes/altamont/complaint9.pdf.